Thursday, June 8, 2017

Marcus Junius Brutus (85-42 BC)

Roman coin
Head of Marcus Junius Brutus (obverse)
Daggers and Pileus with Ides of March inscribed (reverse)
43-42 BC
British Museum

Vincenzo Franceschini
Head of Marcus Junius Brutus with Daggers and Pileus
ca. 1710
("enlargement of engraved gem")
British Museum

Marcus Junius Brutus still enjoys great fame as the leading assassin of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. In the traditional European visual vocabulary, his emblems of pileus and daggers (displayed in the images above) also came to represent other similar acts of supposedly virtuous political violence. The Roman "freedman's cap" or pileus eventually became the red "Phrygian cap" of the French Revolution.

Anonymous printmaker
Busts of Marcus Junius Brutus (left)
and his putative ancestor Lucius Junius Brutus (right)

ca. 1750-1820
etching, engraving
British Museum

"Marcus Brutus came of that Junius Brutus for whom the ancient Romanes made his statue of brasse to be set up in the Capitol: with the images of the kings, holding a naked sword in his hand, bicause he had valliantly put downe the Tarquines from their kingdom of Rome.  But that Junius Brutus being of a sower stearne nature, not softened by reason, being like unto sword blades of too hard a temper: was so subject to his choller and malice he bare unto the tyrannes, that for their sakes he caused his owne sonnes to be executed.  But this Marcus Brutus in contrarie maner, whose life we presently write, having framed his manners of life by the rules of vertue and studie of Philosophie, and having imployed his wit, which was gentle and constant, in attempting of great things: me thinkes he was rightly made and framed unto virtue."

 opening sentences of Plutarch's Life of Brutus, translated by Thomas North in 1603

The ancient statue of Lucius Junius Brutus that Plutarch describes "set up in the Capitol" was believed to be the same as the bust called Lucius Junius Brutus that survives there now. And that bust, in the Capitoline Museum, is what is represented as Lucius Junius Brutus on the right-hand side of the print above. Modern scholars no longer credit the bust as a portrait of the first Brutus (or of any historical character), just as they no longer credit the idea that the Brutus who assassinated Caesar was biologically descended from the Brutus who had "established the Roman Republic" 500 years earlier. But writers and artists in the 17th and 18th and 19th centuries almost never doubted either of these facts, which enabled them to link the characters and appearances of the two heroes, and to contrast them with great confidence.

Quoted passages below are all from North's early English translation of Plutarch's Life of Brutus.

Roman intaglio
Head of Marcus Junius Brutus
1st century BC - 3rd century AD
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Sir Robert Strange
Portrait of Marcus Junius Brutus
ca. 1753-64
etching (book illustration)
British Museum

Pieter Bodart
Portrait of Marcus Junius Brutus
etching (book illustration)
British Museum

"Afterwards, when the Empire of Rome was devided into factions, and that Caesar and Pompey both were in armes one against the other, and that all the Empire of Rome was in garboyle and uproare: it was thought then that Brutus woulde take parte with Caesar, bicause Pompey not long before had put his father unto death.  But Brutus preferring the respect of his contrie and common wealth, before private affection, and perswading himselfe that Pompey had juster cause to enter into armes then Caesar: he then tooke parte with Pompey, though oftentimes meeting him before, he thought scorne to speake to him, thinking it a great sinne and offence in him, to speake to the murtherer of his father." 

Bust of Marcus Junius Brutus
Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence

Anonymous Italian sculptor
Bust of Marcus Junius Brutus
16th century
Prado, Madrid

"It was reported that Caesar did not forgette him, and that he gave his Captaines charge before the battell, that they shoulde beware they killed not Brutus in fight, and if he yeelded willinglie unto them, that then they shoulde bring him unto him: but if he resisted, and woulde not be taken, then that they shoulde lette him goe, and doe him no harm.  Some say he did this for Servilia's sake, Brutus' mother.  For when he was a young man, he had bene acquainted with Servilia, who was extreamelie in love with him.  And bicause Brutus was borne in that time when their love was hottest, he perswaded him selfe that he begat him." 

Lucas Vorsterman after Peter Paul Rubens
Bust of Marcus Junius Brutus
British Museum

attributed to Joseph Nollekens
Bust of Marcus Junius Brutus  
ca. 1768-1805
("at the Duke of Dorset's, Knowle")
British Museum

Giovanni Folo after Buenaventura Salesa
Bust of Marcus Junius Brutus
in the Capitoline Museum, Rome

ca. 1779-1836
etching, engraving
British Museum

Ercole de’Roberti
Portia and Brutus
ca. 1486-90
tempera on panel
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

"Nowe Brutus, who knewe verie well that for his sake all the noblest, valliantest, and most couragious men of Rome did venter their lives, waying with him selfe the greatnesse of the daunger: when he was out of his house, he did so frame and facion his countenaunce and lookes, that no man coulde discerne he had any thing to trouble his minde.  But when night came that he was in his owne house, then he was cleane chaunged.  For, either care did wake him against his will when he would have slept, or else oftentimes of him selfe he fell into suche deepe thoughtes of this enterprise, casting in his minde all the daungers that might happen: that his wife lying by him, founde that there was some marvelous great matter that troubled his minde, not beinge wont to be in that taking, and that he coulde not well determine with him selfe.  His wife Porcia (as we have tolde you before) was the daughter of Cato, whome Brutus maried being his cosin, not a maiden, but a younge widowe."

Jean-Michel Moreau le jeune
after Jean-Baptiste Simonet
Brutus and accomplices swearing an oath
before the statue of Pompey

ca. 1800
etching, engraving
(illustration for Voltaire's Death of Caesar)
British Museum

Pierce Tempest, publisher
Brutus with the ghost of Caesar
prophesying doom before the Battle of Philippi

ca. 1678-1717
British Museum

George Noble after Richard Westall
Death of Brutus
(Strato kneeling with sword)

etching, engraving
(illustration for Shakespeare's Julius Caesar)
British Museum

"Having sayd so, he prayed everie man to shift for them selves, and then he went a litle aside with two or three only, among the which Strato was one, with whom he came first acquainted by the studie of Rethoricke.  He came as neere to him as he coulde, and taking his sword by the hilts with both his hands, and falling downe upon the poynt of it, ran him selfe through.  Others say that not he, but Strato (at his request) held the sword in his hand, and turned his head aside, and that Brutus fell downe upon it: and so ranne him selfe through, and dyed presently."